Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


Workplace Relations

8:04 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear who our essential workers really are, and I want to thank them—thank them for so often putting their own health at risk to keep Australia running and to help their fellow Australians. Thank you to the health professionals, cleaners, early-childhood educators, truck drivers, shop assistants, public transport workers, emergency services workers, security officers, warehouse workers, aged-care workers, hospo workers, farm workers, teachers, manufacturing workers, disability support workers, delivery drivers, telco workers and so many more.

Our greatest resource during this crisis has been our people, but so many of the people I've listed are also so often undervalued. These workers don't just deserve our thanks; they deserve a better deal. They deserve to be valued in their pay packets. They deserve decent and secure jobs. These workers have put the nation's interests first. These workers have had our backs, and on this side of the chamber we will always have theirs.

But over the last seven years what has this third-term Liberal government actually delivered for these working people and for working people in our country? They've delivered a wages system that is completely unable to deliver a living wage for so many of these essential jobs. They've delivered wage theft that is rampant and out of control; jobs that are insecure, casual and short-term gigs; and attacks on the very people working to protect jobs and protect wages: our country's unions. That is this government's record for the essential workers of this country.

What I want to know, and what I think many of these essential workers want to know, is whether or not the thanks and appreciation that the government is showing them right now will translate into actual action once this crisis is over, because many of these workers need a pay rise. They need to earn enough to live. The fact that, in one of the richest countries in the world, so many of the essential workers that I'm recognising today earn around half the average wage—well, we can do better than that. Surely we can do better than that!

Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, this government had the worst record on wage growth from any government since records began. It is a core responsibility of any government to ensure that people have good, secure jobs with decent wages. Now, before this crisis is even over, the government is talking about cuts to workers' rights and a snapback of support while people are still in crisis today. We have to ask: a snapback to what? Is it a snapback to low wages, to insecure jobs, to casual jobs? Is it a snapback to attacks on working people and their unions?

Is that what the government has in store for us? We owe it to those workers who've worked so hard to keep their fellow Australians safe and to keep our country running, to plan for a recovery that genuinely lives up to the phrase, 'We're all in this together,' a phrase that Prime Minister Morrison is using so often today. We need an economy that works for a people, not an economy that forces many of the essential skilled workers that I'm recognising today into these insecure and low-paid jobs. There is an opportunity during this recovery to build an Australia where workers get a better deal, where no-one is left behind and where everyone has the opportunity of a good life in this country. So let's take it.